Film / Mindhunters

Gabe: "The island. The middle of nowhere. They're all professionals. What's the point?"
Harris: "The point is that they're isolated, alone, and forgotten. That's what it's like to be in the mind of a sociopath."

Mindhunters (2004) is a murder mystery by the director Renny Harlin. It centers around a group of FBI's criminal profiler trainees who are sent to a remote island as part of a special training event designed by their instructor Jake Harris (Val Kilmer). The trainees are supposed to catch a fictional serial killer called "The Puppeteer" but the situation quickly turns for the worse once a real killer starts picking off the trainees.

The plot of Mindhunters is much like Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None. The movie was poorly received and did not succeed at the box office.

Also starring Jonny Lee Miller, LL Cool J, and Christian Slater.

This film provides examples of the following:

  • Achilles' Heel: Lampshaded and overdone ad nauseum. The plot of the movie rests on a FBI profiler killer killing other FBI profilers by presenting them in situations where they will have to fall for traps he's devised, because said trap is their weakness. In the end, he dies by getting shot in the head, causing LL Cool J's character to quip "I guess we found out his weakness. Bullets.". However, the killer's true Achilles Heel is time. Everything has to happen on his schedule.
  • Attention Whore: Lucas killed his parents and continues his rampage over nothing more than infamy. Hell, the only real thing he was troubled by in his parents' murder is the cops not thinking he was the one who did it, unaware that the kid they handed gum to was the Ax-Crazy Sociopath behind the familicide.
  • Action Girl: Sarah, after she takes a level in badass near the end of the film.
  • Agony of the Feet: One of the female FBI agents smokes a cigarette, not knowing it has been laced with acid, several drops of which eat through her boot. She briefly stomps her foot in pain before realizing she has other problems.
  • Ax-Crazy: Lucas Harper is one twisted son of a bitch, if his affinity for killing people both For the Evulz and in a way to prove his "superiority". His profile even says he's addicted to killing.
  • And Then What?: Gabe to Vince in one very tense sequence when he's handcuffed to a bed and the latter (who's paralyzed from the waist down) is hanging for dear life from a pipe, with both of them all the while surrounded by rising water electrified by live wires, and Vince thinking it was Gabe's trap.
    Gabe: Vince, either you're gonna hang there forever or you're gonna toss me your gun!
    Vince: I'm gonna watch you die.
    Gabe: Yeah, watch me die! And then what?! "
  • Backwards-Firing Gun: One of the victims is killed by sabotaging his gun this way after he spends the entire movie complaining that he doesn't want to part with his gun.
  • Big Bad: Lucas Harper, the Serial Killer stalking the island.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sarah and Gabe managed to survive the night and stop a deadly serial killer's spree but they will still need to explain why/how 7 FBI agents are dead and are likely going to be subjected to a lengthy Federal internal affairs investigation.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Played with. The first person to die is white. Gabe is believed to be the killer for most of the movie, and is one of only two survivors. Ambiguously Brown Nicole Willis survives for the majority of the movie.
  • Bond One-Liner: "I guess we found out his weakness—bullets."
  • Body Horror: Nicole's death. Turns out that acid ingested via cigs can do a little more than contribute to the chance of getting lung cancer...
  • Cell Phones Are Useless: After the first victim is killed all the phones on the island stop working, and all the team's cellphones lose signal. Not that ridiculous considering they were already 50 miles away from the coast...and the fact that this film takes place several years before the advent of nationwide 3G coverage.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The wall clock and the phosphorescent dust help Sarah finally identify the killer.
    • Nicole's gun becomes a literal example. Vince's gun, on the other hand...
  • Chekhov's Skill: Subverted and exploited. Almost everyone's death is based on some sort of special skill, strength, or aspect of their personality. Heck, it's the main plot point of the film for crying out loud.
  • The Chessmaster: The mysterious killer.
  • Clock Discrepancy: The heroine re-sets the clock so the villain will misjudge when he's due to strike again. This also played on the villain's obsession with precise timing. She knew that he would reset the clock to the correct time, which would cause the phosphorous powder she coated it with to get on his hands, allowing him to be exposed by a special light.
  • Closed Circle: After the boat gets blown up.
  • Creator Cameo:
    • Renny Harlin as a mannequin in a phone booth later in the film. Also
    • The people on the Wanted posters are members of the film's art department.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: If being sprayed form the feet up with liquid nitrogen until you fall over or finding out the hard way that your smokes have laced with Hollywood Acid don't fit this trope, nothing does.
  • Danger Room Cold Open: The film opens with two FBI agents investigating a serial killer's lair looking to save a girl he kidnapped, only to be killed in a firefight with the killer's accomplice. Turns out it was a training scenario by the academy when the lights turn on—which they failed completely, missing every clue that there was a second culprit.
  • Daylight Horror: J.D.'s death happens at day.
  • Dead Guy Puppet: The killer kidnaps Harris (the group's supervisor), who had remained on the island in secret, and tortures him to death. After it seems like Harris is the killer himself, the group finds his corpse hanging from the ceiling in an abandoned warehouse as a grotesque marionette. They accidentally trigger a switch which animates the corpse to do a dance to a massively inappropriate upbeat jingle.
  • Death Trap: The preferred method of the mysterious killer.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Gabe, Bobby, and Rafe.
  • Decoy Protagonist: J.D. at a push. The actor who plays him is definitely the most well-known of the main cast, with the possible exception of Val Kilmer, who also ends up dead. Word of God is that no specific character was set up to be the lead, to give the impression that Anyone Can Die.
  • Divide and Conquer: The strategy used by the killer when there are only three survivors left.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him:
    • Anyone familiar with Christian Slater's usual roles would not expect him to get taken out at all, let alone be the first to die.
    • Ditto for Val Kilmer's character, who doesn't much screen time either, dies offscreen, and gets unceremoniously posed like a puppet afterward.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: The killer.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: After the first death everyone starts accusing everyone else.
  • Evidence Scavenger Hunt: Two of them, actually.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The main plot takes place over the course of a single day.
  • Failed a Spot Check: In a Danger Room Cold Open situation, two FBI trainees enter a house to save a serial killer's latest victim and declare the area safe before they're both "killed" by a second perpetrator. Their supervisor later chews them out about all the telltale signs they missed that the killer might have had an accomplice, including two cars parked in the front.
  • Fair-Weather Mentor: Jake Harris.
  • Final Girl: Played completely straight with Sarah, even outside of a Slasher Movie context: unlike the other female character she is not shown to be sexually active, and in a film in which the killer exploits people's "weaknesses" to kill them, her weakness is not a vice.
  • Foreshadowing: Since the method of death is directly linked to the person's personality, this entire movie is foreshadowing from the get-go. The first two to three scenes set up the entire shaky house of cards. The only trap that isn't really foreshadowed is Headless Coffee Guy (with a Hand Wave of another character referring to him as a "coffee junkie" several hours later). Another major but subtle instance is Agent Jensen describes Lucas as having an addictive personality. He's addicted to killing.
  • Five-Token Band: We have four white Americans (one of them being southern for some extra flavour), a British dude, a black guy, a Hispanic girl and guy (the latter of whom is also in a wheelchair).
  • Forced to Watch: The killer ties Harris and forced him to watch his recruits die on the monitors before torturing him and killing him.
  • Gambit Roulette: How did the killer know they'd all decide to drink coffee, all at the same time, and all drink enough of it so they'd remain asleep for the same length of time (see One Dose Fits All below)? How did the killer know that Nicole would pass a cigarette machine and then give in to her craving? How did the killer know that JD or Bobby wouldn't simply get out of the way of their respective traps? etc., etc., etc.
  • Ghost Town: The island. It's populated by plastic mannequins dressed as people to simulate a real town.
  • Handicapped Badass: Vince is a wannabe profiler in a wheelchair who is still able to do push-ups, and is strong enough to hang from a pipe for several minutes. Also he never goes anywhere without his gun.
  • Hollywood Acid: A quantity of acid small enough to be concealed undetectably in a cigarette is sufficient to kill the FBI trainee who smokes it. While her death might be reasonable under the circumstances, her entire body emitting vapor from, at most, a few mL of acid isn't, nor is the dropped cigarette melting its way into the ground beneath it.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The killer's motive and a rare example of a psychological hunt rather than an outright physical hunt
  • Idiot Ball:
    • It takes the killer and the last female standing several attempted gunshots to realize that firing underwater messes up your aim.
    • There's also Nicole's decision to take the cigarettes despite the entire island being on giant death trap.
    • It's soon established that the killer is using traps and schedules to knock off one or two members of the group at a time, and yet no one just considers staying put in the forensic room they know isn't trapped and just waiting the thing out. Sure, the killer is with them, but he's outnumbered and you'd think one person would figure out such a simple solution.
  • It Gets Easier: The killer compares killing to a drug - with each successive kill one builds up a tolerance, requiring ever more extreme acts of violence to achieve a "high".
  • Killer Cop: After searching the entire island with infrared sensors, the trainees rule out anyone else being on the island, and realize the killer is one of their own.
  • Kill It with Ice: In the first trap set by the Serial Killer, a victim's feet get blasted with liquid nitrogen; his ankles then shatter and he falls to the ground and crumbles.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When the killer at the end talks about the importance of misdirection to deceive others, they might as well be describing the job of a screenwriter.
  • Literally Shattered Lives: The first trap captures J.D. by spraying him with liquid nitrogen. He then falls and shatters into a million bloody pieces.
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: Sara and Nicole are contrasted this way. Nicole's connection with JD is entirely sexual, as opposed to Sara's emotional connection to Lucas.
  • Motifs: Time and water are the most prominent.
  • Motive Rant: The killer delivers a rather prolonged one after revealing themselves.
  • One Dose Fits All: At one point, the killer sneaks a sedative into the pot of coffee the team is drinking from. It takes effect a few minutes later and every team member is out cold within about a minute of each other, and similarly wake up within a minute of each other several hours later. Never mind the disparities in how much coffee each team member drank or that the team includes six team members ranging from a burly Scary Black Man to two petite women (however, one of the team members gets murdered while asleep and another is the killer himself, mitigating this slightly).
  • Ontological Mystery: The movie has definite shades of this. The characters do know why they're on a secluded island: as part of an FBI profiler training exercise. It doesn't take long before they're completely cut of from the outside world and it turns out that there's a killer amongst them who starts murdering them one by one.
  • Plato Is a Moron: According to the killer, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffery Dahmer, and Ted Bundy are "tired old hacks."
  • Plothole: After repeatedly remarking that the simulation "doesn't feel real" without his gun, Vince pulls out and dramatically cocks a gun and he'd concealed in his wheelchair. All the other characters berate him for this, as they'd been specifically told not to bring weapons. However, just minutes earlier, Nic and LL Cool J's character can clearly be seen bearing handguns as they carry JD's corpse.
  • Poison Is Corrosive: Invoked during the Hollywood Acid (see above) sequence. The cigarette reveals its potency first by blistering Nicole's fingers, and then we see several drops from it burn through her boot-clad foot. Right before the horror ensues, we see the cig itself melting into the floor.
  • Poor Communication Kills: At the climax, after it seems like Gabe has killed Lucas, he looks for Sara and calls her name in a really creepy tone. Then he finds her and says things like, "Guess we have answers now, don't we?" and, "I'm the profiler! You're the victim!" while roughing her up. It's important to note that neither of them is the killer. And Lucas is still alive. This would be a good time to try working this out and working together. Granted, Gabe's conclusion that Sara is the killer after all is not entirely without merit.
  • The Profiler: Only Harris is an actual profiler, the rest are trainees. Also inverted - every person on the island is a profiler, and the murderer seems to know his victims quite well, enabling some particularly karmic deaths for the flawed criminologists.
  • Red Herring: By the time the cast is whittled down to about five people, it's revealed that Jake Harris, the supervisor, is the real killer when he begins to taunt them through the loudspeakers set up on the island. They find him inside his lair, only to discover that the speakers were playing a pre-recorded tape and Harris himself had been tortured to death.
  • Room Full of Crazy: A wall full of photographs.
  • Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts: There's a serial killer killing everyone in incredibly bizarre ways tailored specially to each character's personality. One death was a literal Rube Goldberg machine. Death by being frozen by a dropped bottle of Liquid Nitrogen, or death by smoking acid-filled cigarettes anyone?
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Attempted twice: First by the entire team after J.D. is killed; tried later by Nicole. It doesn't work either time.
  • See Water: The final underwater gunfight is a particularly egregious case of this.
  • Self-Made Orphan: The killer when he was just a lad.
  • The Sociopath: Harper, having killed his parents when he was younger for attention, no less. He's then dedicated his life to killing others all for the sake of attention. Plus he's got a severe Lack of Empathy, taking outright glee in torturing and killing his victims, as well as testing out his traps on animals before trying them on people.
  • Serial Killer: A fictional one and a real one.
  • Slasher Smile: Harper flashes quite a few demented ones after The Reveal.
  • Someday This Will Come in Handy: There's one character who knows the exact speed of light, and this came in handy as to figure out how someone would be killed next.
  • Spanner in the Works: Gabe Jensen
  • Spinning Clock Hands: Used briefly to show time's passage when everyone is knocked out by the drugged coffee. As the camera is watching the clock, we don't get to see the killer's activities during this interlude.
  • Take That!: In-universe example: the Navy has left a bunch of rubber ducks floating around with geeky glasses and 'FBI' scrawled on them.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: It was widely considered an unofficial adaptation of And Then There Were None.
  • The Team: JD is The Leader, Sara is The Chick and Gabe is the Sixth Ranger. Elsewhere Bobby is The Ace, Nicole shares The Smart Guy role with him and also The Big Guy with Vince. Lucas claims to be the best driver and Rafe isn't really developed enough to slot into a role.
  • Too Dumb to Live: When you're in the death house, a place that is clearly booby-trapped that has already killed two people (and tried to kill more), under no circumstances do you pick up a random pack of cigarettes you find lying around. You also probably shouldn't be wandering around said death house alone, either, nor should you desert the only other people in the place, considering one of the people you're leaving behind is trying to kill you and knows where the next trap is. Whatever Nicole's strong points are, Genre Savvy is definitely not one of them.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Out of the team of eight, Sara and Nicole are the only women.
  • Torture Cellar: The grim fate of Jake Harris.
  • Vasquez Always Dies: Nicole Willis is the tougher and more aggressive of the two women and she is killed off.